Defrag Blog

Cycles, Juxtapositions and Predictions

by Eric Norlin on Oct.25, 2007, under defrag "theory", industry stuff

I’m a “cycles” guy. Which is to say that I’m always inherently looking for the cycle or analogy as I read news and history. This, of course, biases how I see the world (and could result in a much larger argument about whether/why history is cyclical or linear - one we won’t have here). But my admitted bias does allow my brain to walk down some interesting paths.

This morning, I’m looking at 3 juxtapositioned thoughts:

1. This NYT’s article about the broadening of losses from the mortgage meltdown. Specifically, I’m keying in on this line: “If prices drop 5 percent next year, that would mean a decline of $60 billion in spending, all else being equal. That would be a noticeable slowdown, but not enough to cause a recession.” (Throw in here Mary Meeker’s recent statements about an upturn in the relative funk in enterprise spending — especially in the area of technology.)

2. The news from yesterday about Facebook investments (Microsoft, hedge funds), specifically what it all means for the cycle that I think exists in technology innovation — namely, that the startups and investments swing back and forth between “consumer-focused” and “enterprise-focused.”

3. The consumer-to-enterprise swing that we saw occur in the very early days of Digital ID World (and identity, in general).

Putting it all together, here’s what I’m thinking: Bottom line — Tech innovation is about to get very focused on selling to the enterprise.

Explanation (if rambling and nearly incoherent):

We’ve just gone through an incredible surge in “consumer-focused” startups launching. The mortgage meltdown (which I don’t believe will result in a full-blown recession), combined with the apparent coming uptick in enterprise IT spending, sitting next to a huge investment in what is ostensibly a consumer-focused platform (indication of a top, anyone?), says to my gut that a lot of companies that have started by thinking they’re consumer (or advertising or end-user or eyeballs or whatever) focused are about to realize the value that comes from selling to the enterprise.

It, of course, helps that many enterprises seem to be waking up to the value of some of these consumer-focused tools (see “the consumerization of IT”).

Which all brings me back to the early days of Digital ID World. Its useful to note that early on an awful lot of “identity startups” were trying to solve the consumer-facing side of that problem. After all, if you could be the one company to provide “digital IDs,” you’d be beyond monstrous. It never happened. What happened instead was a steady shift toward selling to the enterprise, and (eventually - as in 4 years later) a coming around to a grassroots movement to solve the “consumer-facing” side of things.

And here’s how it all relates to Defrag: I see a lot of the companies in the “defrag space” (including a lot of our sponsors) starting on the consumer-side of things. I also see nearly all of them making the shift toward the enterprise.

If you define the broad defrag problem-set as having the data that’s accruing on the Net come to organize itself in support of the individual (and groups of individuals), then its quite easy to come to see how the early tool-sets might be most useful in the “closed test labs” of the enterprise.

That’s actually why I think Defrag the conference is in such a unique position. Like digital identity, we can move through a cycle of “enterprise work” (and watch Defrag companies solve enterprise problems), and have that work lead to “consumer-facing” solutions.

If (big IF) I’m at all right on this, we’ll see “defrag sponsors” enter into a really strong growth period as the economy works its way through our consumer-focused slowdown and the enterprise spending picks up.

I’m not sure if that made any sense at all. ;-) And, obviously, if you think I’m wrong, I hope you’ll show up in person and debate me.

[update: Maybe I'm even *late* to the game on this, as it looks like Microsoft is seeing a nice upturn in business spending.]

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